Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Guest House

Summary: Driving home from work on a summer afternoon, Melba Burns witnesses a nightmare collision. The wreck ends her pursuit of success at any cost—Melba parks her car, quits her job and stops driving. She retreats into her beloved old farmhouse, yearning for a simpler peace.

But peace and Melba’s new roommate, JoLee Garry, have never met. A shallow, self-absorbed stunner, JoLee magnetizes messes and trouble. She brings boyfriends, booze and a tag-along son with her—a series of unexpected guests who transform Melba’s solo life into something different, daring and richer.

This fast-paced, contemporary novel moves between Portland, Oregon and Atomic City, Idaho, the absolute center of nowhere.
Guest House explores the grace that comes from daring to intervene in a stranger’s suffering. It will appeal to those who have forgotten the power that comes from living simply, and to anyone in their middle years whose life has been hijacked by love.

Despite my effort not to judge a book by its cover, I have to admit that I fell in love with the cover for GUEST HOUSE by Barbara K. Richardson. It's probably what first made me want to read this book. But then I read the description of this novel and thought it sounded like a good fit for me. I usually enjoy books about women who undergo major life changing events.

However, I'm not entirely sure that GUEST HOUSE lived up to my expectations. I won't go so far as to say that I didn't like this novel, but it definitely didn't resonate with me like I had hoped. (I have to be upfront and say that it might just be me right now. I have read some outstanding books in the past few weeks, and it now seems like the few I've recently read aren't doing it for me.) I enjoyed parts of this book and I did feel more towards the characters by the end. I just think it took me awhile to really "get into" this story. However, based on the reviews that I've read, I am definitely in the minority on this one.

This book was little bit strange for me in that I found myself conflicted over the author's writing style. It did take me a little longer than I would have liked to appreciate her writing, but then I would stop and reflect on a passage that I thought was really well done. By the end of the novel, I'd come to appreciate her prose, but I do wish that my reaction would have been more consistent.

While there were a few characters that I didn't care for (and one that I couldn't stand), I did find that most of the characters in this novel were nothing if not interesting. I did really come to like Melba though. After being a witness to a horrific accident, Melba reevaluates her life and makes some pretty drastic changes. I enjoyed seeing how Melba evolved throughout the novel, and I liked how the author used her character to convey a a feeling of comfort and hope. I also really appreciated the character of Matt. Matt was a young boy who at times was forced to be much older than he was because of the lack of parental guidance. As a mother to a child who is close to Matt's age, my heart just broke over and over again for him.

In fact, this novel did evoke some pretty strong feelings in me -- mainly because I couldn't stand to see a child neglected so much. And, I did find big parts of this book to be extremely depressing. Even Matt's parents had very valid and very unfortunate reasons for their actions that caused me to pause and feel a teeny bit of compassion. While they were indeed flawed, the characters were trying to do the best they could given their circumstances.

Ultimately, I did appreciate the messages that the author hoped to convey in this novel. I enjoyed seeing Melba and Matt's relationship develop as well as Melba's sacrifices for Matt; and I liked that they both realized that how important they were to each other. I also enjoyed that this book makes the reader look at the question -- what constitutes a real family? And despite the despair that I felt at times while reading this book, I have to say that I was very grateful that the story ended with an upbeat note of hope.

If you'd like to learn more about Ms. Richardson, there is a very interesting interview with her here -- you can either listen to the 20 minute conversation or read a few of the highlights. In addition, Good Morning America recently posted an essay written by Ms. Richardson about her novel and spirituality in general. I found both to be insightful, and I especially enjoyed learning the story background on the gorgeous cover.

Thanks to The Book Report Network for sending me a copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

It sounds like the characters are great in this book, even if you didn't quite love it. Great review, as always.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I agree with Kathy - great review, even of a sometimes depressing book!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Really great review on this one Julie. I have mixed feelings about reading it. I've read two Vietnam books and one about Columbine. I need some happiness!

Beth F said...

Nice job on this review. It can be so hard to present a balanced view when a book doesn't wow you.

Beth Hoffman said...

You really did a wonderful job with this, Julie. Hats off to you for writing such a well balanced review of a book that wasn't your cup of tea!

Steve Capell said...

I really enjoyed reading your review of this book!

Anonymous said...

Sorry you weren't wowed by this book. I'll admit that I read chapter one on the author's website after receiving the pitch, and the writing style didn't grab me. I have heard good things about it, though.